A Female Boxing Pioneer
On September 30, 1930, in a small town in Cottingham, East Yorkshire, England a baby girl was born to a mother and father. What seemed to be just another birth at the time, no one would imagine what the future held for the newborn. Perhaps she would be a nurse, get a job at the factory, or grow up to be a housewife like many women of the time. But one day after playing soccer with her friends she entered her home with muddy shoes and was tossed a newspaper by her mother to clean them off. Obeying her mother she got the paper and before her was a photo of a woman that would change her life forever.
The Picture? Polly Burns, an early female prizefighter, a rarity for the time, especially in the UK where such a profession was looked at by the same esteem as a barmaid or a prostitute. Sill, this did not stop her.
By age nineteen the young girl stood at only 4 ‘ 11” and weighed 98 pounds but her small stature didn’t stop her curiosity from discerning this thing called boxing. Willing to fight at the fairgrounds, she would challenge any women to get in the booth and fight her while spectators watched. This was very popular at the time where even men got their start.
As she began to make her Reign and develop her skills in the fairgrounds she moved to London where she found a trainer and later husband in Len Smith.
Barbara’s training regiment included three hours of sparring, bag work, and mitts every evening after her day job as a typist. Her strongest punch was her stiff left jab that accumulated three broken noses including her husbands when they sparred. Her stamina and grit were so much that she once fought two fifteen round bouts on a single day in France.
The Come Up
Barbara Buttrick, or The Mighty Atom as she was known in the ring, quickly began to make a name for herself in the world of boxing. The critics were loud and the challenges real as the thought of a female fighter in the UK was almost nonexistent, especially in the minds of the sanctioning bodies who insisted that boxing was a male sport and they didn’t change their minds for quite some time.
But the fight inside of Barbara was just as big as her fight inside of the ring. She would persist and not be deterred by the circumstances in her pursuit of becoming a fighter. Her abilities would continue to grow and her ambition would lead her to the U.S. where Women’s boxing was more accepted than in the UK.
Once in the U.S. Barabara and her trainer made their way to Miami’s 5th street gym where they would rub shoulders with future legends Muhammad Ali and his trainer Angelo Dundee. While in the states Barabra would fight 1,000 exhibition matches and win 30 professional fights knocking out the U.S. female bantamweight champion in the process.
In 1957, Barbara would take on Phyllis Kugler in San Antonio, Texas in a historic first licensed boxing match for women. The fight would crown Barbara as the first women’s world-boxing champion in a unanimous decision victory.
After Barbara attained a 30 – 1 – 1 record 12 of those wins coming by way of a knockout she went on to mother two children, with her husband/trainer.
Since her retirement, Barbara continued to pioneer in Women’s boxing creating what is today known as the Women’s International Boxing Federation a major fight sanctioning organization for women’s boxing. She also helped establish the International Women’s Boxing Hall Of Fame in 2014.
It is because of people like Barbara with their tenacious veracity to never quit and persevere in the face of adversity that made it possible for others to make their own way and create their own legacy. Because of that we applaud her sacrifice and salute her bravery.
To Barbara, one of the Greatest female champions to have ever laced em’ up.